In this world we’re under pressure to believe that human rationality is the pinnacle of wisdom and the measure by which religion (and the bible) is to be judged. The bible tells us, however, that without God there is no wisdom, only facts:
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. Proverbs 9:10 (NIV)
Christians understand this, but we still have a tendency to mix in the messages of the world – our self-worth, our strength, our will, our freedom, our rights, etc – with God’s wisdom, ending up with a poor version of knowing and serving God that ultimately short-changes us. For instance, we sing songs that say ‘Jesus, I’ll never leave you’, when the truth is more in line with Keith Green’s lyric ‘I know that I would surely fall away, except for grace, by which I’m saved’.
Another example is something that a Christian friend said recently, along the lines of “People don’t love others because they don’t love themselves – they need to love themselves first before they can love others”. This saying probably has a degree of truth in it, but if we were to follow this advice to its logical conclusion, it would take us inside ourselves, to focus on loving ourselves more so that we can love others. The bible has an altogether different view:
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgement, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. 1 John 4:7-21
So where does love come from? From loving ourselves or being confident of our self-worth? No, from God. How do we love others? By being born of God and knowing God. If we don’t love, what should we do? Know God. What is love? God loving those who do not love Him (other passages call us ‘enemies’ of God) and sacrificing His son so that those enemies can be in relationship with Him. And how do we know God?
My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. Proverbs 2:1-5
For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God. Colossians 9:10
“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Tim 3:14-17
John Piper points out that we often expect God to love us by ‘making much of us’, ie. that we want or expect love that puts us on a pedestal. But because God is God, the most loving thing He can do for us is ‘to make much of Himself’ and point us to Him, because walking through this life looking ourselves makes as much sense as visiting an art gallery and walking around looking at the floor rather than the pictures. The single most loving thing God can do for us is to point us to Himself, and the single most valuable thing we can do in response is to gaze into Him:
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42
If we leave all the human wisdom behind and sit at the feet of Jesus, soaking up His word and gazing into the Lord’s face, this gets stripped away. But something interesting happens here, something we don’t expect. By gazing at the Lord’s holiness we are convicted of our sinfulness but are not downtrodden because we also see God’s love, faithfulness and plan for us.
For everything that was written in the past [the Scriptures] was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Romans 15:4
Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. 2 Peter 1:2
God does not provide us with a legalistic ‘you’re worthless’ view of the world, He tells us the truth, – that:
- we are desperately sinful beyond our understanding and can in no way make ourselves acceptable to Him,
- that we can and must be reconciled to Him through his free gift of grace, and then to
- focus on Him so that we can experience the magnitude of his grace and love, learning to love Him
In doing so we won’t attempt to find heaven here but look forward to the the real heaven, where all things will be restored. For Jesus called us to fullness – “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10). Anything else is a half-baked compromise.
Can I therefore encourage us to commit ourselves to prayer, that God would give us:
- a heart to read, learn and know His word,
- a heart to pray to Him, and
- a heart to share His word with each other and others we know?
On that basis, and sharing the Lord’s word with each other, rather than homilies, we can renew our minds so that we:
“… not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2
Transformed! This is not being a little different to everyone else, it’s being transformed. By God’s power to become utterly, totally and dramatically different to the people we were. In the previous verse (Rom 12:1), we’re ‘urged’ that “in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship”. Living sacrifices! Nothing of me, and all of Him.
At what point should we be content with our Christian walk? Surely we are to go deeper and deeper into the Lord’s love all of our days. Where is the limit of “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”? (Deut 6:5). I cannot see one. But this is not to be a discouragement but instead an encouragement to press on:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons:
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. Hebrews 12:1-11
So yes, we have the freedom to share human wisdom with each other, but what a waste of our time together. Let’s commit ourselves to knowing God and making Him known to each other, speaking the very words of the LORD to each other so that we can be transformed.
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgements, and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?”
“Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen. Romans 11:33-34
My prayer for myself is that I can also live up to what we are called to.
Finally, here a some valuable sermons that have instructed me on these topics. I encourage you to listen to them.
John Piper on A Generation Passionate for Gods Holiness
Matt Chandler on The Path series (particularly 1, 2 and 3)
Mark Driscoll on 1 John 1:1-4 and 1 John 1:5:2:2